DOH focuses on cutting Covid test processing lag

THE total number of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines rose to 15,049 as of Wednesday (May 27), even as the Department of Health vowed to erase the backlog of 6,000 test results that have yet to be processed by licensed laboratories.

“In about two days mauubos na ang backlog na ito [In  two days this backlog should be wiped out],” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a radio interview on Wednesday, noting that several factors affect the processing of test results like diminishing supplies needed for tests, among others.

As of 4 p.m. of May 27, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 380 new cases (PH14670-PH15409) of Covid-19.

The DOH also announced that there are 94 new recoveries. This brings the total number of recoveries to 3,506. There were 18 new deaths recorded, bringing the total number of deaths to 904.

Duque revealed that there are 70 to 80 laboratories in the pipeline to help ramp up the Covid-19 tests.

“Around 70 to 80 are applying for the accreditation and certification and this is a very complicated process. Most of them fail in the proficiency tests,” Duque said, stressing that such test is very crucial and that everything should not be rushed to come out with the needed accreditation and certification for “what these labs are handling live virus.”

“We cannot compromise on the safety…they handle live virus. That’s scary. That’s no joke,” Duque pointed out, in a mix of English and Filipino.

Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified that the estimated testing capacity of all licensed laboratories across the country is 32,000 per day.

“Our actual numbers are being reported daily through our sitreps [situation reports] and other materials. The 32,000 is the estimated capacity sans all other factors that may affect operations of laboratories,” Vergeire said, adding that there are 66 laboratories to date and 17 labs that are set to be licensed.

Vergeire also underscored the “factors” that may affect the operations of each laboratory that will render a low number of tests daily.

She said factors that “may affect operations include availability of lab supplies in the market, health human resource issues, equipment and issues in infrastructure.”

She cited how a typhoon recently damaged the laboratory of the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, and some of the equipment of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) were damaged due to leaks in the building after heavy rain.

Last month, the government also set, but failed, to meet its initial goal of 8,000 tests per day by the end of April.

As for May, Vergeire said, “[Our] average of [the daily tests conducted] is 8,590 to 9,500 per day.”

Admitting that they are trying hard to attain the target that has been set, Vergeire said that the DOH assigned specific teams to focus on labs which are on Stage 3 and 4 of the licensing process.

“So we can guide them and expedite their licensing in the next two weeks. We have identified 17 labs which [can] be licensed in the next two weeks. Included here would be two labs from PRC which has a huge capacity for testing,” she said.

Likewise, in their existing labs, Vergeire said, they have provided automated extraction machines which can lessen time for processing of samples by four hours per run.

“And also, we have added additional RT-PCR machines in some of the labs. Hopefully with these efforts we can be able to expand capacity and reach that target,” an optimistic Vergeire concluded.

Infected OFWs

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19-infected Filipinos abroad is now 2,664 with the addition of 29 new cases, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), quoting a report from the Foreign Service Posts (FSPs) across the four major geographical regions.

There have been 930 recoveries and 1,400 who have been undergoing treatment.

Despite the increase in new Covid cases, the daily rate of recoveries increased to 2.75 percent with 25 new recoveries in Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Six new fatalities were also recorded from three countries in the Middle East to bring the total deaths to 334.

With Recto L. Mercene

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